'Our hearts are pretty heavy': Concerns raised over cancelled season at Marquis Downs
SASKATOON -- Last season, Nicole Hein competed as a jockey at Marquis Downs.
Hein said she and the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents owners and trainers, have many questions and concerns about Marquis Downs’ decision to close its doors due to COVID-19.
“I think that Marquis Downs and more specifically the management really disrespected the horseman because they haven’t communicated with them, they haven’t answered any of their questions and they haven’t given them enough time to come up with a plan B,” Hein said.
Jamie Hartmann grew up at Marquis Downs and has trained horses at the track for half of her career.
“Our hearts are pretty heavy and we’re pretty disappointed, especially with every other province are able to run (their tracks),” said Hartman.
Hein and Hartmann feel riders have been left in the dark for months regarding the season with many on standby waiting for answers.
“When it came time to May and we kind of had known Marquis Downs wasn’t opening its track to train there, I kind of saw the writing on the wall,” said Hartmann.
“There’s a lot of people losing money because they were waiting faithfully for Marquis Downs to say something to them about their plans of action, if they couldn’t race or whether or not they were going to push the (opening) dates back,” said Hein.
The closure of the horse track was announced on Tuesday. “With the limitations currently in place for travel and public gatherings, a race season is just not feasible this year,” Praireland Park said in a news release.
Hein also questions why the track and Prairieland Park did not try harder to secure government funding to keep the track opened, similar to what other tracks in other provinces have done.
Rick Fior, Marquis Downs’ manager of racing, said he is upset the track had to close and his number one concern is the safety and health of staff and riders during the pandemic.
“There were a number of obstacles we really couldn’t overcome. Number one was the social gathering obstacle. We wouldn’t be able to have enough people to come to the track to watch the races to make it worthwhile for us. We need about 1,500 to 2,000 people a night and social gathering wasn’t going to allow us to do that,” Fior said.
Fior said there has been communication with riders through their professional association and there have been discussions to try and secure government funding.
The horse track is in a unique situation, he said.
“People are going to say ‘yeah, but other tracks (in other provinces) are racing with no fans’, well the reason they’re racing with no fans is because they have casino revenue or they have some form of slot revenue so that allows them to run, they can afford to do that.
“Our revenue for racing is gate admission, program sales, food and beverage, commissions on every wager at Marquis Downs and sponsorship and without those it’s basically impossible for us to run.”
Hein has since moved to Winnipeg to continue working as a jockey. She is unsure whether she will return to Saskatoon.
“The people at the track here have supported their horsemen a lot better,” said Hein.